Serious Eats: Drinks

Ask a Sommelier: How to Pair Wine With Salads

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What kinds of wine go best with salads? [Photo: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

When it comes to wine pairing, salads can be tricky: a salad that's dressed with something tart can knock out the flavor of the wine you're trying to enjoy. We asked a few sommeliers from around the country for their tips on the best wines to serve with salads, and all the factors to consider when pairing. Here's what they had to say.

"Wines with an herbaceous or vegetal component work nicely with salad, whether it be a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley (all that fresh parsley and cut bell pepper) or a Gruner Veltliner from Austria (pea shoots and parsnips, anyone?). The main concern here is making sure that the acid in the wine meets or exceeds the acidity in the salad dressing; you might think that a tart wine with a tart vinaigrette would be overwhelmingly, well, tart, but together those two high acid components will wash each other out, and you'll be left with a clean palate, ready to experience the more immediate flavors in the salad. You also want to match the weight in your dressing to the weight of the wine: a salad with a creamier dressing might want a wine with the creaminess of oak treatment. And finally, don't be afraid of a little residual sugar if there are sweeter elements in the salad (whether it be a honey vinaigrette, candied nuts, or fresh fruit). To my mind, one of the greatest salad pairings of all time is a classic Waldorf salad with François Cazin Cour-Cheverny Cuvée Renaissance (the off-dry bottling he makes in exceptional years—if that wine is out of reach, then a good Vouvray Sec or Demi-Sec from a producer like Domaine Huet, Philippe Foreau, or François Chidaine will do just fine!)."—Mia Van De Water (North End Grill)

"Gruner, gruner, gruner! This is my go-to salad wine if we're talking greens, vinaigrette, and veggie-heavy salads. The savory, green tones with celeriac and white pepper notes of a classic gruner are a perfect match for a salad. It enhances all farm-fresh flavors of the a great salad and brings brightness to the finish. Gruner also generally has enough weight on the palate to go with salad that have proteins. There's enough ripeness to balance out a grilled chicken or egg preparation, as well as acidity if you like salmon or blue cheese with your salad. Other great wines that have lovely, fresh green tones that work well with salads: Sancerre, Chablis, Arneis, and even a Blanc de Blancs Champagne."—June Rodil (Qui)

"Salads can be real wine killers: a wine with medium acidity suddenly becomes flabby in the face of zippy salad dressing because vinegar is infinitely more tart than any of the acids that turn up naturally in wine. There are two ways to deal with this issue. The first is to select wines that bite back. Brighter styles of wine (read: higher acidity) will hold their own next to the sourness of, for instance, lemon juice or vinegar. Some wines to consider in this category include: Txakolina (traditionally lean white wine from northern Spain), Muscadet (based on the snappy Melon de Bourgogne grape of the western Loire Valley in France), and Picpoul de Pinet (a white from the Languedoc region of Southern France). Picpoul translates roughly to 'lip stinger,' a nickname referring to its naturally high acidity. Red wines with suitable acidity are harder to come by, but a rose or sparkling rose could do the trick. The other way to address the issue of pairing salads with wine is to make a salad dressing with slightly lower acidity by substituting something like a lower acid citrus (tangerine or Valencia orange, perhaps) or verjus (the juice of underripe grapes). Grapes like grapes, so the verjus is a fun alternative for your next vinaigrette."—Lulu McAllister (Nopa)

"The variety that always comes to the rescue is Riesling. Riesling has high acid to match dressings but a few grams of sugar can go a long way to making the dish more complete. The last few months I have been drinking a lot of Riesling from Karthauserhof, Weiser-Kunstler and Peter Lauer."—Eric Railsback (Les Marchands)

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[Photo: Jennifer Segal]

"When it comes to challenging pairings like kale or asparagus or artichokes, a simple way to think about wines is to think: if I were cooking these vegetables, what would I add? I use lemon and salt, so for asparagus, artichokes, kale, I tend to lean to wines that have that citrus and salinity: briney seaside wines like Pigatos from Liguria, or Sardinian Vermentinos, Muscadet or a sharp, acidic, and dry riesling (and yes, of course...gruner veltliner). It's fun, also, to play with smoke (not fire): smokey volcanic wines like a great Fiano or Greco di Tufo can add a lot of texture and depth to a salad, especially with a peppery green like arugula, or a salad with a blue cheese or citrus. That same citrus salad is also fun to pair with a light red like a Freisa from Piemonte: the acidity is already there from the oranges, and then you add the fresh earthier berry that you find in the wine, reminds me almost of a great sangria."—Ceri Smith (Biondivino and Tosca)

"Tart wines are best with salads, since you're often dealing with vinegar and mustard in dressing. You can pretty much pop any white or rosé from the Loire Valley: it's called Le Jardin du France for good reason. Pépière's Muscadet or Trotereau's Quincy are perfect salad wines. Many Italian whites have a subtle neutrality that endears them to vegetables. Pigato (Vermentino) from Liguria has a tight white pepper kick to it that makes it pop with salad. I especially love Punta Crena's Vermentino. Rosé is the other great salad wine, since it mutes the pungency of garlic-forward dressings and finishes clean. One of my favorite combos is Commanderie de Peyrassol rosé and spinach salad with olives, egg and a dijon vinaigrette."—Jackson Rohrbaugh (Aragona)

"White wines are an easy go-to with salad, but I think that is only half of the story. I think higher acid red wines make tremendous salad pairings and for this I look to Italy. Start with kale and balsamic. Throw in some pepper, cranberries, walnuts, and maybe a Pecorino cheese and that sounds like a meal worthy of a Piemontese Barbera d'Alba by E. Pira e Figili. These wines have a tremendous freshness to them, yet with the heartiness of the cheese and the walnuts, the tannic properties of Barbera will have met their foil. Given the old adage 'acid loves acid,' the balsamic dressing will marry perfectly with this higher acid red grape. If the kale were to be swapped out for a less hearty green, such as romaine or mache, one might be tempted to seek out a white wine, but something with high mineral and high acid. I would stay in a Mediterranean country and head to Roussillon, France to enjoy Thomas Tiebert's Domaine de l'Horizon "Patriot" 2011. This German living in Catalunya makes this cuvee from Macabeu and Muscat to satisfy his yearning for the super-crisp mineral, yet floral whites he misses from the Mosel. For this pairing I would swap out a classic dark balsamic vinegar for a white balsamic, which brings the same sweet/sour combo we all love, but with a slightly more neutral flavor profile more befitting a white wine pairing."—Caleb Ganzer (Eleven Madison Park)

"With a super acidic dressing, I would choose a fuller white; perhaps a Chardonnay with some oak aging. If it's a super creamy dressing, I would choose a leaner white with more acid like a dry Riesling or a white from Northern Italy. Then again, if you have a steak or chicken salad, you can go with a light-bodied red, like a Beaujolais, or Arbois from France."—Jessica Brown (The John Dory and The Breslin)

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